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Self-Improvement or Growth?

By J.B. Stoney

      Everyone according to his moral sense, if he is true to his conscience, refuses the evil and seeks the good; and as the conscience becomes enlightened, this is more definitely insisted on. This is the principle of law; obedience was enjoined by the law however contrary to the natural man. Now when grace comes in, the believer rejoices in the assurance of his forgiveness, and, as he knows atonement, his conscience constrains him to live to please God; but this is often taken up on the principle of law, so that self-improvement becomes his great aim, and the law his standard of walk.

      Now it should be plain to anyone who understands the Gospel, that in the fulness of the grace of God, the man who offended against God was judicially terminated in the Cross, and the one who believes in the Second Man is justified. He should know that he is not now in the flesh, in Adam before God but in Christ; and that any attempt which he may make to improve his old man in conduct is in reality a flagrant, though unintentional, denial of the greatness of the grace of God.

      But this is a wile by which many are captured and detained. Almost every believer is more or less caught in this snare, and many, alas! continue in it to the end of their course. Very few learn early in their history what it is to be in Christ, and thus meet to enjoy fellowship with the Father. Until this is known he is necessarily occupied with himself. As a result he sometimes subjects himself to much self-mortification in the effort to repress or improve the tendencies of the flesh, and this goes on until the cry is not, Who will improve me? but "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"

      It is generally a long time before one arrives at this point; months and years are often spent in trying to improve, until one feels that all is hopelessly in vain. Then, and not until then, comes the agonizing cry, "O wretched man that I am!" When the believer has thus come to a true sense as to himself, that "in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing," he finally turns to God; and now after this exercise, he learns to say, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord."

      Now, deliverance is really sought; but here we must note what is typical and very sad, and that is that one of the wiles of the enemy is to divert the anxious soul from learn ing deliverance in the life of Christ, through the teaching that God sees the believer without sin by the work of Christ on the Cross, so the believer, by the reckoning of faith, is practically holy. This is a delusion, and has done much harm to souls; and from this has sprung the teaching called "holiness by faith," i.e., that as God sees you in Christ without spot, you can reckon yourself to be holy.

      The reckoning is valid, but the actual deliverance and growth come progressively by walking in the Spirit, who in turn centers the dependent believer in Christ who is his Life, his Deliverer. Thus the question is, not as to whether you are improved or not, but whether you are in Adam or in Christ; if in Christ you can say, I have "crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," and you not only know that He lives in you, and that thus you are governed by a new Person, but as you behold His glory, you are trans formed into His image, and you are the expression of Him here.

      The Lord lead our hearts to see the contrast between self-improvement and growing in the Lord Jesus in His beauty and grace, nourished and cherished in Him. Thus instead of being elated at your own improvement, or cast down because you cannot effect it, you are occupied with the grace and beauty of the Lord Jesus, in which you are thus made to share.

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